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A Dance to the Music of Time
Synopsis
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This twelve-volume sequence [A Dance to the Music of Time] traces a colorful group of English acquaintances across a span of many years from 1914 to 1971. The slowly developing narrative centers around life's poignant encounters between friends and lovers who later drift apart and yet keep reencountering each other over numerous unfolding decades as they move through the vicissitudes of marriage, work, aging, and ultimately death. Until the last three volumes, the next standard excitements of old-fashioned plots (What will happen next? Will x marry y? Will y murder z?) seem far less important than time's slow reshuffling of friends, acquaintances, and lovers in intricate human arabesques."

[Robert L Selig; Time and Anthony Powell, A Critical Study]


Poussin Robert Selig's summary (above) of the whole twelve volumes is probably one of the best ever summaries of Dance. No volume-by-volume summary seems to do justice to Dance, only make it sound like a soap-opera. In summarising such a complex and lengthy work one is bound to remove not just the great writing but all the nuances and the majority of the characters. Notwithstanding here is an attempt to précis each of the twelve volumes. The dates quoted do not generally appear in the text, but have been determined by Hilary Spurling in her Handbook to "Dance to the Music of Time" from the evidence of the internal and external events mentioned in the text.


QU Dance opens with the last year or so of the narrator, Nicholas Jenkins', school days in 1921/22. We're introduced to his friendship with Charles Stringham and Peter Templer, and also the universally reviled Widmerpool, Housemaster Le Bas and Nick's Uncle Giles.

On a luncheon visit to Stringham's mother's (Mrs Foxe) Nick meets Buster Foxe and 'Tuffy' Weedon. On leaving school Jenkins visits the Templers', setting eyes for the first time on Templer's sullen sister Jean and meeting Sunny Farebrother and Jimmy Stripling.

Later Nick is sent off to France to learn the language, staying at La Grenadière, where Widmerpool puts in an appearance.

The final chapter sees Nick at university where he enjoys the delights of afternoon tea with Professor Sillery and meets for the first time Mark Members, JG Quiggin, Bill Truscott. A car outing with Templer, Bob Duport and Jimmy Brent turns to disaster when Templer drives them into a ditch.


BM The first part of book two is taken up with various deb balls in the early summer of 1928/9, notably at the Huntercombes, where Barbara Goring (a flame of Nick's) pours sugar over Widmerpool. Leaving the ball, Widmerpool and Jenkins bump into Mr Deacon, a painter, and his consort Gypsy Jones. Stopping together at a tea bar they find Stringham who takes Nick, Deacon and Gypsy to a party at Mrs Andriadis's.

During that summer Jenkins spends weekends in the country and lunches at Stourwater, home of magnate Sir Magnus Donners, where he again meets Jean Templer, now married to Bob Duport. Widmerpool, who works for Donners, appears during a tour of the Stourwater dungeons and later manages to wreck one of his master's ornamental urns with his car.

That autumn Stringham is married to Peggy Stepney; Mr Deacon dies after his birthday party; Jenkins sleeps with Gypsy after Deacon's funeral.


AW Volume three is set during 1931-33. Nick meets Uncle Giles for tea at the Ufford Hotel and is introduced to the clairvoyant Mrs Erdleigh who proceeds to tell their fortunes.

Jenkins arranges to meet Members at the Ritz, but the appointment is kept by Quiggin who has replaced Members as secretary to novelist St John Clarke; Nick eventually dines with Peter and Mona Templer and Jean Duport and is invited for a weekend at the Templers' in Maidenhead.

This weekend sees the start of an affair with Jean. Quiggin is invited for Sunday, but has to leave due to concerns over his master. Mrs Erdleigh is also there with Jimmy Stripling in tow.

Later in spring 1933 Nick spends a day in encounters with Quiggin and Members who recalls a demonstration led by St John Clarke, wheeled in his chair by Quiggin and Mona. There follow various further encounters with Jean and visits to Foppa's restaurant/bar.

Summer 1933 sees Jenkins, Templer, Stringham and Widmerpool at the Le Bas dinner for Old Boys at the Ritz. Stringham arrives the worse for drink and Widmerpool makes an uninvited, boring and pompous speech, stopped only by Le Bas collapsing with a stroke. Widmerpool and Jenkins take the drunken Stringham home to bed. The book ends with intimations of an end to Nick's affair with Jean.


LM In this book in very early 1934 Nick is introduced by a colleague film-script writer, Chips Lovell, to the Tolland family at a party given by Lady Molly Jeavons. It is announced that General Conyers's sister-in-law Mildred Haycock (neé Blaides) is to marry Widmerpool.

Nick is invited for the weekend to the country by Quiggin, now living with Mona. While there they all visit the Tolland ancestral home, Thrubworth Park, for dinner with Erridge (Lord Warminster, head of the Tolland family). During dinner a gaggle of Tolland sisters arrive. Nick decides on sight he should marry Isobel Tolland. Some while later Nick meets Ted Jeavons in a Soho pub and they visit Umfraville's nightclub where they encounter Widmerpool, Mrs Haycock and Templer.

In Autumn 1934 Jenkins is engaged to Isobel; Erridge absconds to China with Mona; Widmerpool's engagement to Mildred Blaides is broken off, there being different stories depending to whom Nick talks.


CCR CCR opens with reminiscences of the late-20s/early-30s, concerning Nick's first meetings with Mr Deacon, Maclintick, Gossage, Carolo, Moreland and others, and culminating at the point of Nick and Isobel's marriage.

1936 sees Nick having luncheon with various of the Tollands at Lady Warminster's. Erridge leaves for the Spanish Civil War. Nick visits Isobel in hospital where he meets Moreland visiting his wife Matilda who is about give birth and also meets Widmerpool. Moreland and Nick visit the Macliniticks.

In late 1936 Matilda loses her baby. Mrs Foxe gives a party for the first performance of Moreland's new symphony; Moreland has fallen for Priscilla Tolland; the Maclinticks row and Stringham, now a recovering alcoholic, puts in an unexpected visit.

In Spring 1937 the death is announced of St John Clarke; Erridge is back from Spain; Maclintick is abandoned by his wife and commits suicide; Priscilla is engaged to Chips Lovell.


KO The last volume before WWII starts with a flashback to Jenkins' boyhood at the outbreak of the Great War. The day of the Sarajevo massacre sees General and Mrs Conyers lunching with Jenkins' parents and Uncle Giles arriving unexpectedly for tea. Equally unexpectedly the Jenkins' cook, Albert, gives notice. This causes the parlourmaid, Billson, who loves Albert but is loved by the other servant Bracey, to appear naked in the Drawing Room. We also encounter the mystic Dr Trelawney and disciples out for a run.

In Autumn 1938 we find Jenkins staying with the Morelands at their cottage near Stourwater. Templer collects the party for dinner with Donners at Stourwater. After dinner all are photographed by Donners in tableaux of the Seven Deadly Sins, as portrayed in the castle's tapestries, during which Betty, Templer's second wife, runs off a nervous wreck. Widmerpool appears in army uniform to discuss business with Donners.

In Summer 1939 Nick has to clear up Uncle Giles's affairs after his death at a small seaside hotel, the Bellevue. This hotel is run by Albert (the Jenkins' former cook), and here Nick meets Bob Duport who, during an evening's drinking, tells Nick of Jean's series of lovers which Nick still finds painful. Dr Trelawney also dies at the Bellevue.

Later in 1939 we find Jenkins attempting to gain a commission in the Army, eventually effected by Ted Jeavon's brother. Nick re-encounters Moreland, homeless and saved by Lady Molly after Matilda deserted him for Donners.


VB Early in 1940 Jenkins joins his regiment in Wales as a Second Lieutenant. We are introduced to his commanding officer Captain Gwatkin and the alcoholic Lieutenant Bithel.

The battalion is moved to Northern Ireland where Gwatkin disastrously muddles instructions during an exercise and there is a snap inspection by General Liddament.

On route to a training course at Aldershot Nick makes friends with David Pennistone. At Aldershot Jenkins meets Odo Stevens and also Jimmy Brent who gives an account of his affair with Jean. Stevens gives Nick a lift to spend weekend leave at Frederica Budd's house, where Isobel, Robert Tolland and Priscilla are staying. Robert Tolland's leave is suddenly cancelled. Meanwhile Stevens has made a hit with Priscilla.

On rejoining his regiment at Castlemallock Nick finds Gwatkin in unrequited passion for a barmaid, and having a running battle with Bithel. Jenkins is instructed to report to the DAAG at Divisional HQ, who turns out to be Widmerpool.


SA At the start of 1941 we find Jenkins stationed at Divisional HQ and in F Mess with Captain Biggs. During an exercise Jenkins has dinner in the Mess with General Liddament who recommends him to Finn. Widmerpool is humiliated by Colonel Hogbourne-Johnson, and plots revenge. Stringham turns up as Mess Waiter for F Mess.

On leave in London Nick has an unsuccessful interview with Finn of the Free French. He has a drink with Chips Lovell who wants a reconciliation with Priscilla, despite her affair with Odo Stevens. Moreland, now living with Audrey Maclintick, dines with Nick. Audrey, Priscilla and Stevens arrive to join the party, but Priscilla leaves in distress. Later that night Jenkins is told that a bomb falling on the Café de Madrid has killed almost everyone, including Chips. Nick sets off to the Jeavons's to tell Priscilla, only to find Lady Molly's also bombed, Lady Molly and Priscilla being killed.

On return to Divisional HQ, Jenkins finds Stringham transferred to the mobile laundry. Stringham and Nick try to cover up for Bithel's drunkenness, but they're foiled and Widmerpool has Bithel dismissed from the army. Farebrother brings news of disaster awaiting Widmerpool, who is in despair. Jenkins fails to persuade Stringham to leave the mobile laundry before it is posted to the Far East. Captain Biggs hangs himself; Jenkins is instructed to report to the War Office.


MP In the Spring 1942 Jenkins is working in Whitehall as Pennistone's assistant looking after the Poles in Allied Liaison under Finn. He attends a Cabinet Office meeting, chaired by Widmerpool, where he finds Sunny Farebrother and a dejected Peter Templer. Jenkins visits the Polish HQ in Bayswater, which turns out to be the Ufford Hotel. His driver on this occasion is Pamela Flitton, Stringham's niece. Pamela brings the news that Stringham was captured at Singapore.

Jenkins is living in a flat in Chelsea in early 1943 and is promoted to supervising the Belgians and Czechs.

One night during the Summer 1944 Jenkins, sheltering in the flats from a flying bomb attack, encounters Pamela Flitton with her current lover Odo Stevens. Following prophesies on their futures by Mrs Erdleigh there is a row between Stevens and Pamela. Jenkins is promoted to Major.

Jenkins is one of a party, led by Finn, of Allied military attachés touring Normandy and Belgium. A meeting in Brussels with Bob Duport brings news of Templer's death in the Balkans.

Summer 1945 sees Widmerpool engaged to Pamela Flitton and Miss Weedon engaged to Sunny Farebrother. Pamela accuses Widmerpool of murdering Templer. The Thanksgiving Service at St Paul's is attended by the Military Attachés, including a Latin-American Colonel Flores. Nick fails to recognise Flores's wife, who is Jean. Finally Jenkins is demobbed.


BDFR Jenkins returns to his old university library during the vacation in the Winter of 1945/6 to do research for a book about Robert Burton. He goes to see Sillery, who has a new secretary Ada Leintwardine. Quiggin is starting a new literary magazine called Fission, which is to be funded by Erridge ... except that Erridge dies suddenly.

Erridge's funeral at Thrubworth is disturbed by the late arrival of the Widmerpools, Quiggin, Sir Harold and Lady Craggs (Gypsy Jones). Pamela Widmerpool causes a disturbance by leaving during the service. Later at Thrubworth Park, Jenkins is invited by Quiggin to join the staff of Fission; Pamela causes a further disturbance, and on leaving is sick into a large Chinese vase.

At the party to launch Fission, Nick first meets novelist X Trapnel; Trapnel takes a fancy to Pamela.

Early the following year there are problems at Fission's publishers, Quiggin & Craggs. Trapnel is infatuated with Pamela. Jenkins, dining with MP Roddy Cutts (married to Susan Tolland) at the House of Commons meets Widmerpool (now also an MP). All three go to Widmerpool's flat where it becomes apparent that Pamela has absconded with Trapnel. Some time later Jenkins visits Trapnel and Pamela at their seedy flat, and while there Widmerpool arrives to confront the adulterers.

Later in the year Pamela leaves Trapnel, and in doing so throws his latest precious manuscript into the nearby canal. At an Old School function Jenkins meets Le Bas and Widmerpool, who is now reunited with Pamela.


TK A decade on sees Jenkins, around 1958, at an international literary conference in Venice, where the death is announced of French author Ferrand-Sénéschal. Dr Emily Brightman introduces Jenkins to Russell Gwinnett, a prospective biographer of X Trapnel. Gwinnett naturally wishes to meet Pamela Widmerpool, and he produces a press report linking Pamela with Ferrand-Sénéschal's death.

Next day the conference visits the Bragadin Palace to view a ceiling painted by Tiepolo. Here we find Pamela with film director Louis Glober gazing at the ceiling. Gwinnett is introduced to Pamela. Widmerpool arrives; there is a row between the Widmerpools.

On the Sunday Nick visits painter Daniel Tokenhouse and lunches with Ada Leintwardine and Glober. Further viewing of Tokenhouse's paintings is interrupted by the abrupt arrival of Widmerpool. Glober has designs on Pamela. Nick dines with Gwinnett, who recounts his earlier rendezvous with Pamela. Later at a bar Nick meets Odo Stevens (now married to Rosie Manasch) and Pamela who foretells troubles for Widmerpool.

Back in England later in the year Nick visits Bagshaw and there is the mystery of Pamela's nakedness in Bagshaw's house while Gwinnett was staying there. Later still Nick dines with Gwinnett, and attends an army reunion where he hears a further account of Stringham's death; Farebrother predicts Widmerpool's imminent arrest for spying.

Moreland conducts at a Mozart party given by the Stevens' in Summer 1959. Glober is there with Polly Duport (actress daughter of Bob Duport and Jean), as are Mrs Erdleigh with Jimmy Stripling, Audrey Maclintick and the Widmerpools. There are violent scenes between Glober, Pamela and Widmerpool on leaving the party. Pamela is warned by Mrs Erdleigh that she is near the edge. Moreland collapses after the concert.

Late in 1959 Nick reflects on the subsequent death of Pamela, apparently from an overdose while in bed with Gwinnett, and also visits the dying Moreland in hospital.


HSH In Spring, almost another decade later, the Jenkinses act as host to a caravan of hippies led by Scorpio Murtlock, allowing them to camp on their land. One of the band is Fiona Cutts (daughter of Roddy Cutts, so a niece of Isobel's). Murtlock is keenly interested in the nearby Devil's Fingers standing stones.

Widmerpool is appointed Chancellor of a new university, and is promptly pelted with paint by the Quiggin twins (Amanda and Belinda; daughters of JG Quiggin and Ada Leintwardine); Widmerpool is thus converted to the current counter-culture. Nick visits Matilda Donners, and is shown the photographs of the Seven Deadly Sins tableaux of 30 years before.

The Donners Memorial Prize is established. A year or so later Nick is part of the committee who award the annual prize to Russell Gwinnett for his biography of X Trapnel. Widmerpool takes the Quiggin twins to the presentation dinner where he makes an impromptu speech, and the twins disrupt proceedings with a stink bomb.

At a Royal Academy dinner Nick gets an account of Dr Trelawney and of Murtlock's boyhood from Canon Fenneau. Widmerpool asks the Canon to put him in touch with Murtlock.

By Spring 1970 there are hints of Widmerpool and Murtlock joining forces. At midsummer conservationists muster at the Devil's Fingers and there are reports of naked dancers there the previous night. Gwinnett reports on Murtlock's attack on Widmerpool at the Devil's Fingers that night.

Spring 1971 brings a family wedding at Stourwater. Fiona Cutts, released from Murtlock's grip, arrives newly married to Gwinnett. Widmerpool, leading a run by Murtlock's cult, arrives at the wedding reception and pays public penance to the bride's grandfather for some misdemeanour at school. Murtlock arrives and ruthlessly removes Widmerpool and his cult from the proceedings.

The final chapter sees Jenkins in Autumn 1971 lighting a bonfire and reflecting on a recent revival in Bosworth Deacon's pictures. He has recently attended the gallery which is selling the Deacon's paintings and where he met a now invalid Bob Duport, Polly and Signora Flores (Jean). While there he gets an inside account from Henderson (formerly one of Murtlock's followers) of life in Murtlock's cult. Bithel (also part of the cult) arrives with news of Widmerpool's death on a naked run with Murtlock's followers.


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